Over the last year, crowdfunding has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have become a viable source of funding for both artistic and commercial projects. Crowdfunding has helped find backing for everything from Double Fine's latest adventure game to an incredibly versatile $20 iPhone tripod mount (plus a surprisingly moving documentary on Angolan Death Metal).
But now, like some invader from a goatee-infested parallel universe, Kickstarter's evil twin has arrived. Kickstriker is the brainchild of three New York University Communications students. Functionally, it is identical to Kickstarter, with tiered rewards for different levels of investment in its various user-submitted projects.
Lock and Load
The difference is that while Kickstarter helps struggling indie-rock bands and provides backing for quirky entrepreneurial projects, Kickstriker does the same for armed drone aircraft and mobile torture centres (for which a $50,000 pledge will get you a die-cast model torture bus, lunch with an arms dealer, and a tour of the Mobile Black Site's interior).
But before you start to panic (or sign up to crowdfund the assassination of your boss), I should probably mention that Kickstriker is a hoax designed to bring attention to an ethical blind spot lurking in the crowdfunding model.
The hoax is pretty convincing, with only a few subtle clues to give the game away. The three 'MIT students' who posted the terrifying Panopticopter project (an all-seeing microcopter bristling with weaponry) are named Brandon McCartney, Natassia Zolot and Radric Davis. A little research reveals that these are the real names of US rappers Lil B, Kreayshawn and Gucci Mane (if you value your sanity, I advise you to avoid clicking on the Kreayshawn link).
Of course, there is always the possibility that this highly influential group of chart-topping musicians could be developing their own military force. But if they are, they're not using Kickstriker: the hoax is revealed as soon as users try to donate funds ( I was trying to buy the armed drone, if you’re wondering).
Danger in Numbers
The site's creators seem to have taken inspiration from the notorious Kony 2012 campaign, which sought to end the brutality of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony with a carefully constructed blend of bracelets, posters, US-sponsored assassination and public nudity.
Many (myself included) were concerned that the Kony 2012 campaign exploited the crowd to further an interventionist policy. The Kickstriker hoax gets right to the heart of the issue by demonstrating that crowdpower is a double edged sword. The same mechanism that brings us the games, gadgets and music we want is also capable of bringing death and destruction on a global scale.
But, clever as the hoax is, there's nothing to prevent a real version of Kickstriker from starting up. Such a venture would be against international law, of course. But so are torrent sites like the Pirate Bay, which is still merrily supplying cheapskates with unlimited free content.
So what’s the answer? Do we sit back and hope that international law enforcement is better at dealing with rogue military operations than stopping illegal downloading of Two and a Half Men? Assign a CIA agent to every crowdsourcing venture?
All those of us on the beardless, non-evil side of the crowd industry can do is follow Kickstriker's example, and bring as many people as possible into the conversation.
Who better to supervise crowdsourcing projects than the crowd itself? Let us know what you think in the comments...